This journey through Vietnam will bring you to historic cities, scenic caves, and local flavors. You'll visit the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam, and the infamous Hoa Lo Prison. You'll take a boat tour through various caves filled with stalactites, then witness the archival grounds of Vinh Moc tunnel and Imperial Citadel of Hue. Throughout the trip, you'll also taste the different flavors of authentic Vietnamese food and drink.

Highlights

  • Visit the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam built in 1070
  • Take a boat to see two iconic caves: Phong Nha and Thien Duong
  • Dine at a local's home in Hue for traditional Vietnamese food and storytelling
  • Tour the Imperial Citadel of Hue and experience its three ancient ramparts

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi - Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi
Day 3 Phong Nha - Phong Nha Cave and Thien Duong Cave Phong Nha
Day 4 Phong Nha to Hue  Hue
Day 5 Hue - Imperial Citadel of Hue Hue
Day 6 Hue - Phuoc Tich and Tam Giang Lagoon Hue
Day 7 Depart Hue  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Hanoi

A scenic view of the Tran Quoc Pagoda Buddhist Temple from Hanoi's shores

 

Upon arrival at Noi Bai airport, you will meet your driver and local guide and travel by car to your hotel in Hanoi.

You can relax for the rest of the day or attend an option performance called “My Village,” which is one of the leading representatives of the “new circus” style in Hanoi. The show will help you understand more about the Vietnamese lifestyle as well as the spectacle of modern Vietnamese theatre.

Duration of the show: 60 minutes

Day 2: Hanoi - Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison

The courtyard area at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam

In the morning, you will begin your full day exploring the Temple of Literature (“Van Mieu” in Vietnamese), situated in the place once known as the first university of Vietnam. It was built in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong for princes and mandarins exclusively. With its ancient courtyards, altars, and roofs, Van Mieu is an excellent example of Vietnamese architecture.

You'll then pay a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, which was well-known to American soldiers—like late U.S. Senator John McCain, who was a former prisoner there—as the “Hanoi Hilton.” The prison closed during the 1990s, but today the gatehouse and a small part of the prison remain as a museum and somber historical reminder. You will have the chance to visit two separate parts of the prison, and each of which shows how the prison functioned during two specific time periods: the French colonial era and the Vietnam War. The exhibitions mainly show the prison's rooms used during the French colonial period—including the guillotine room—complete with all of the old prison equipment.

In the early afternoon, your Soviet-era Minsk and driver will be ready for you right outside of the hotel. Sitting on the back of the Minsk, you will venture through the black market section of Hanoi, meet a local in a remote area of the city, and then continue around all of the must-see highlights of the capital. You'll stop at the West Lake to experience the traditional cuisine and drinks, ranging from finger foods to the legendary egg coffee. You will then return to your starting point at the famous Long Bien Bridge and have time to take some pictures.

In the evening, you will head to Hanoi train station for an overnight travel to Dong Hoi city, Quang Binh province.

Minsk tour duration: 4-4.5 hours

Day 3: Phong Nha - Phong Nha Cave and Thien Duong Cave

Boats making their way to Phong Nha Cave

Upon your arrival at the Dong Hoi station, you will head to your hotel in Phong Nha for a short rest. After breakfast, you will take a boat trip on the Son River, which offers landscapes along the riverbanks. You'll visit the Phong Nha Cave, the longest cave in Southeast Asia. After returning to the pier, you will travel to Thien Duong Cave, the largest of its kind in central Vietnam’s Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. The stalactites are more diverse, and depending on your perspective and imagination, you might see different shapes and images than your fellow travelers. Finally, you’ll spend the night at your hotel in Phong Nha.

Distance of boat trip: 37 miles (60 km) 
Duration: 1 hour

Day 4: Phong Nha to Hue 

The famous Hien Luong Bridge

After breakfast, travel to Hue through the infamous demilitarized zone (DMZ). You will stop on the road to see some famous DMZ sights like the Vinh Moc tunnel, a strategic site that was the target of endless bombing during the Vietnam War. You will descend into an underground village dug by the population who occupied it for two years and explore a system of three-floor tunnels consisting of small cells, kitchens, toilets, wells, and a hospital. You will then visit the famous Hien Luong Bridge and the military bastion Quang Tri Citadel before arriving in Hue by the end of the afternoon.

Day 5: Hue - Imperial Citadel of Hue

A busy bridge in Imperial Citadel of Hue

This morning, you will pay a visit to the Imperial Citadel of Hue. Built in 1804 and located along the Perfume River, it's known for its fortress-like look and occupies a perimeter of more than 10 kilometers. Inspired by the fortifications of Vauban, it's composed of three parts: the capital city (Kinh Thanh), the Imperial City (Hoang Thanh), and the Forbidden City (Cam Thanh). Although it underwent severe damage during the Vietnam War in 1968, many recent endowments are used to restore and revive this heritage site.

You'll head back to Hue to spend the day as you please. There's an optional food tour available that'll have you stopping at multiple local restaurants and tasting the local cuisine, from rice cakes to tasty noodles with beef and special pancakes. 

For dinner, travel to a local's home and share a meal with the family. Your host will prepare a range of both Hue's and Vietnam's traditional dishes as well as share some stories about her family life, Vietnamese culture, and the culinary specialties of Hue. After sampling the range of different dishes, bid farewell to your host and return to your hotel.

Duration of food tour: 3.5-4 hours

Day 6: Hue - Phuoc Tich and Tam Giang Lagoon

A waterfront shot of Hue

In the morning, you will reach Phuoc Tich, a 500-year old village surrounded by the O Lau River. It's well-known for its system of shrines, temples, old wooden houses, and a 500-year-old tradition of producing ceramics. You'll have a chance to visit Mr. Dien's house, an elder local of the village, and learn about traditional ceramic kiln and his impressive pottery collections.

Upon leaving the village, you will take a drive to Tam Giang Lagoon and discover the local life of the people living around the area. Have lunch at a local house with a view of the fisherman boats and the lagoon and observe how the locals fish using small cages and long fishing nets.

You will return to Mr. Dien's house and take a bike ride to the village, stopping in the rice fields to discover how rice is made by hand. You will then head back to your hotel in Hue.

Day 7: Depart Hue

With this last shot of Imperial Citadel of Hue, it's time to say goodbye to Vietnam!

Have breakfast at your hotel if time allows, then you'll head to the airport for your departure flight.

Map

Map of Head Off the Beaten Path in Vietnam - 7 Days
Map of Head Off the Beaten Path in Vietnam - 7 Days